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United States Supreme Court

79 U.S. 254

Holladay  v.  Kennard

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York.

This was an action of trespass on the case against one Holladay as a common carrier, for the loss of a package of money delivered to his agent at Atchison, in Kansas, on the 2d of January, 1865, to be carried to Central City, in Colorado Territory. The defendant was the proprietor of the overland stage line, which was then engaged in the transportation of passengers and goods from Atchison to Placerville, in California, as a part of the great through mail line across the continent. The package in question was delivered to the United States Express Company in New York, which forwarded it to Atchison and there delivered it to the defendant's agent. It was placed in a safe made of leather and iron, and carried in the stage in charge of an express agent in the defendant's employ. At the time of the loss there were no persons in the stage but this express agent and the driver. The loss occurred by the stage being robbed by hostile Indians at Julesburg, on the morning of the 7th of January.

The civil war at this period was still pending, and the Sioux, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes were hostile to the United States, and were constantly committing outrages against persons and property whilst crossing the plains between Missouri and California. It required much courage, coolness, and vigilance to carry on the business of transportation by the overland route.

Julesburg at that time was a station of the express line, consisting of a log house and stable, a telegraph office and warehouse, occupied by three or four persons in charge. About a mile east of Julesburg was a mud house, called Bulin's ranch. About a mile west of Julesburg was a military post, occupied by about forty United, States troops, under command of Captain O'Brien, and consisting of an 'adobe' building about fifty feet long, with several outbuildings, and provided with two or three pieces of light ordance.

About two o'clock in the morning, when three or four miles east of Julesburg, the stage was fired into by the Indians. Making what speed they could the express agent and driver reached Bulin's ranch with the stage, staid there till daylight, and then went on to Julesburg, where they changed horses. They then proceeded to the military post and informed Captain O'Brien that they had been attacked by Indians, and the express agent requested him to give them an escort to protect the stage on its further progress. The captain said he could not give them an escort, as he had but forty men on duty, and was then mounting them to go and fight the Indians, who were in sight, and told the agent to remain where he was, as it would not be safe for him to go up the road. He then went with his command to engage the Indians, who, he said, were about fifteen hundred in number. After the troops had left the post the express agent changed the mail there and then returned to Julesburg and had the horses put into the stable. They had not been put out more than fifteen minutes when the Indians were observed coming towards the station following the troops, fourteen of whom had been killed. There being no time to hitch the horses to the stage, the driver and express agent mounted each a horse and followed the soldiers back to the military post. The Indians stopped at the station, robbed the stage, and broke open the safe and rifled it of its contents. The troops soon brought their howitzers to bear on the savages and compelled them to retire to the hills.

Upon this evidence the court instructed the jury that the attack of the Indians was that of a public enemy, and that defendant was exonerated from the ordinary responsibility of a common carrier, and was not liable for the loss of the money unless his agents were guilty of some carelessness, negligence, or want of vigilance or attention, which contributed to the loss. The plaintiff below contended that they were guilty of carelessness and negligence, first, in leaving the military post after being charged by Captain O'Brien to remain there; secondly, in unhitching and putting out the horses, on going back to Julesburg. These points were left, and as this court said 'very properly left,' to the jury as questions of fact. But in giving the jury instructions on this subject the presiding judge told them:

'In determining what was the duty of the express agent at that time, I can lay down no better rule for your guidance than this: What, in your judgment, would a cool, self-possessed, prudent, careful man have done with his own property under the same circumstances? . . . Such a man it was the duty of Mr. Holladay to provide for this very hazardous business. It was his duty to provide a cool, self-possessed man, a cautious, prudent man; a man of good judgment and forethought.'

Adverting also to the fact that the evidence showed, that if the express agent had taken the advice of Captain O'Brien the stage would not have been robbed, the court added:

'But the result is not the criterion by which you are to judge.'

The defendant's counsel, notwithstanding the language above quoted in italics, regarding the instruction previously given as contrary to law, and as exacting too much from the defendant, at the trial requested the judge to charge,

First. That the capture of the package by the Indians threw on the plaintiff the burden of proving fraud or collusion of the carrier with the captors.

Secondly. That if the jury believed that the express agent exercised his best judgment at Julesburg, the defendant could not be charged with negligence.

Thirdly. That wilful negligence is required to charge a carrier who has lost property by the act of the public enemy.

The judge declined to charge the jury on these points otherwise than he had done in the course of his address to the jury, and verdict and judgment having gone against the defendant he brought the case here.

Mr. H. M. Ruggles, for the plaintiff in error; Messrs. W. W. McFarland and Joseph La Roque, contra.

Mr. Justice BRADLEY, having stated the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

NotesEdit

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).